Food For Free: From Food Waste to Healthy Meals


Food waste is a major problem around the world and especially in the United States where the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 31% of food is lost at the retail and consumer levels, while 11.8% of U.S. citizens face food insecurity. This case focuses on Food For Free, a small nonprofit company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which takes surplus food (which would otherwise be thrown out) and creates healthy meals for people in need. The idea for the company emerged in 1981 when a group of friends realized that local meal programs were struggling to provide fresh food for people in need, while supermarkets were throwing away large amounts of food they could not sell. This led to launching an organization which can “bridge the gap between waste and want.” Food For Free’s most innovative program is the Family Meals, which began in 2014 in a partnership with Harvard University after the company realized that it was legal to donate cooked food. Food For Free leverages volunteers to prepare the meals, which are sent to schools and community colleges. Its growing list of donors includes many universities, hospitals, and corporations in Massachusetts. The case examines what has enabled its success and the challenges it must overcome in order to scale up operations and meet the needs of its “endless recipients.” The overall goal of the case is to introduce the problem of food waste and the business opportunities in food rescue, the importance of supportive policies, innovation, and strategic partnerships for creating a successful business model, and the challenges faced by small companies aiming to scale up operations. The company’s Executive Director Sasha Purpura would like to know what the best strategy is to expand its network of corporate donors, given its constraints in terms of space, funding, and transportation.

This case was prepared for inclusion in SAGE Business Cases primarily as a basis for classroom discussion or self-study, and is not meant to illustrate either effective or ineffective management styles. Nothing herein shall be deemed to be an endorsement of any kind. This case is for scholarly, educational, or personal use only within your university, and cannot be forwarded outside the university or used for other commercial purposes.

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